Venice is a historical treasure, a living breathing city that changed very little over the centuries and that boasts an extensive and impressive history. Beyond that, it is a very curious place, the only one of its kind, built entirely on the water, which creates myths and legends, and brings to mind many questions. While tourists from around the world flock to the city to admire the beautiful architecture, the breathtaking canals, and the amazing art-packed churches- few visit the city with any historical insight at hand. For this reason, we’ve compiled answers to questions that you’ve probably had about Venice, or perhaps will have during your visit- in an effort to equip you with information that will help enhance your cultural trip.
The Venice of today is, above all, a brief glimpse into an opulent and elegant time where the economy of the Western world relied on shipping and merchants. The city remains as authentic as possible, and buildings are preserved with the intention of leaving the city in its original glory. As you explore the city, the answers we provide below may help you understand certain conventions, and shed light on certain characteristics of Venice.
1. How and why was Venice founded?
Venice was officially founded, according to historical records, on March 25th of year 421 AD with the opening of its first church, San Giacomo, in the area called Rialto (from Venetian “Rivoalto”, or high shore). The Northeastern corner of Italy was, at the time, suffering from a series of barbarian invasions. The Barbarian invasion was a particularly brutal time for local residents, as the invading clans besieged entire cities and terrorized the population, who had previously lived peacefully under the lawful and orderly Roman Empire.
In fear, these people fled to the practically inaccessible marshlands in the Adriatic part of the modern Veneto region, that in Roman times were populated by people called Veneti. The place became known as Venexia in local Venetian dialect, or Venetiae, in Latin, and eventually transformed into Venice in the English language. These marshlands in shallow Venetian lagoon were impossible for barbarians to navigate and thus provided a reliable shelter for the refugees albeit in a very inhospitable environment. Originally a community of fisherman whose main trade besides fishing was salt, Venice grew as new arrivals from the mainland kept coming uprooted by the new waves of barbarians sweeping Italian lands. Venice was, therefore, a haven for refugees. It was, in time, built with understanding of the necessity of the rule of law, the desire to develop commerce, and the drive to succeed typical for immigrant communities. This eventually led to the well-established legal system, the elected government headed by the Doge, and checks and balances built into the system to avoid corruption. The lack of land further helped Venice avoid the destiny of other European states with their backward feudal systems and ascent of the landed nobility. It was above all a commercial society that flourished on trade and friendly foreign relations. In other words, its political and economic systems were far more advanced than of any of other Western European states at the time, and were even studied carefully by the founding fathers in the U.S. as one of the very few examples of a working democracy, even if imperfect.